Liège, Belgium. Sandra is a factory worker who discovers that her workmates have opted for a EUR1,000 bonus in exchange for her dismissal. She has only a weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses in order to keep her job.
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Sokol and Lorna, two Albanian emigrants in Belgium, dream of leaving their dreary jobs to set up a snack bar. They need money, and a permanent resident status. Claudy is a junkie - he needs... See full summary »
Roger uses his son Igor to ruthlessly traffic and exploit undocumented immigrants. When one of the immigrants is killed, Igor is guilt-ridden and wants to care for the dead man's family against his father's orders.
Sandra Bya, married with two children, has been off work from her job at Solwal on medical leave for depression. During her absence from work, her boss, M. Dumont, on the suggestion of her immediate supervisor, the shop foreman Jean-Marc, figures that her section of the company can function with sixteen people working full time with a bit of overtime instead of seventeen with no overtime, that seventeenth person being Sandra. Because of the global competition the company faces, Dumont decides the company can only finance the annual bonuses for those sixteen employees, which are EUR1,000 per person, or Sandra's job, leaving the decision to those sixteen. On a Friday near the end of her medical leave, Sandra learns of this situation from her friend and co-worker Juliette after the "show of hands" vote is held, the result a 13-3 decision for the bonuses over Sandra's job. Because Juliette knows Jean-Marc, who is determined to get rid of Sandra, influenced the vote by scare mongering ... Written by
Hello? I was resting. Just a second. I have to get my tart out. I've made a tart for the kids. Yes, why? Tell me why. No. No, Juliette. No.
[hangs off the phone]
You mustn't cry.
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Sometimes when I watch a film, I have practically no choice but to look at what is between the lines (or, as I sometimes tell my students in the English writing class I teach, *beyond* the lines). This is a case in point with Two Days, One Night, another film by the Dardenne brothers. If you've seen at least one film you might get a handle on how their style is, and don't mistake how "simple" (if that's even a word to use here) their approach to storytelling is for having a lack of style.
If as a filmmaker you're ostentatious or really out there it's often called 'stylish' direction (i.e. Wes Anderson, Brian De Palma), but the Dardennes' approach is to execute their own method as well, just as calculated as the filmmakers who dress their editing and camera-work to impress but in a different way; seeing L'Enfant I got that, and even more so with The Kid on a Bike (the former very good, the latter excellent), and what it comes out to is that they look head on at the human beings that make up this Earth. We know these people, and even if there's a Maron Cotillard on screen it doesn't mean we get that distance like if she was in Inception or Dark Knight Rises or something. Her character is us, or someone we know, and just as much are the other characters that she interacts with who, in reality, may be actors acting in a film but could as likely to be those same people: working class, trying to get by, thinking that if a $1,000 bonus is floated their way it's time to take it even if it means, well, a certain someone can't stay around on the job.
(On a side note, this film hit me on a personal level: a member of my close family had a situation almost exactly similar to the one that Sandra's is here, where severe depression, which is sometimes, though not always, is looked upon by society as a "eh, get over it" kind of deal, made it so that this family member could barely get out of bed much less go to work every day, and just as in the same way it put the family's job in jeopardy. I could see much of the same struggle, almost to the letter emotionally speaking, and even the moments where the film takes its biggest dramatic turns, one you'll know when you see it, felt familiar in that way that made the film staggering to experience - it treats it as a disease that can't be fought, only managed and as a thing to or not to succumb to).
So it's not some abstract concept that the Dardennes' are dealing with; in a very real way Two Days, One Night is a political film, and of all things I was reminded of Spielberg's Lincoln from a few years ago. If you recall in that story, Lincoln has to get his people to try and flip enough potential 'Yes' votes for the 13th amendment to pass and end slavery. Of course the stakes aren't quite so high, but on a micro level (if that's the thing to say as opposed to maco) it's still crucial, as people have to look inside themselves but also look at what's going on in their lives and how empathy plays in to it: can these men look past the bonus so she can stay, or will they vote with their immediate futures in mind (and as another note, and I don't think insignificant to see while watching as I'm sure Dardennes were clear in their casting, it's practically all men who work with Sandra at this company)?
As a slight nitpick to what is otherwise a powerhouse of a film experience, also with Cotillard who I'll expound further momentarily, it's one slight contrivance is that the last person that Sandra sees is black and it's clear, much more than the others, about his more tentative place at the company (and there's a decision to be made in the 2nd to last scene that will affect this character as well). I thought it might have been stronger had this come earlier in the story, that it wasn't this last minute piece of drama, and if anything if they had to make it this distinct as a point of ideological conflict and struggle (black man, white woman, both not seen as fully part of the system in a way, though I could be wrong not being in France).
But this is the smallest thing to pick a nit with; so much of this story is rich with problems that reach beyond what is shown in the film, and in that sense its remarkable that the directors cast a major star in the same way as Rossellini did with Bergman: the neo-realist aspect is still there (another thing that comes to mind as I write this review is Bicycle Thieves, this 'mission' narrative driving things forward as it's all down to survival). Its style is deceptively simple, and for all of the shots that last a long time and as few cuts as there are and as much as the filmmakers wait for actors to enter into the focus of the frame (the soccer coach is my favorite scene of the film with this technique), Cotillard sells every minute emotional detail and nuance, every breakdown, every time she has one of her pills in hand or is staring off seemingly into nothing.
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